OCT 18, 2017 11:02 AM PDT

Hubble Spies on Source of Neutron Star-Driven Gravitational Waves

It was just a few days ago that astronomers announced a breakthrough in gravitational wave research, and NASA has deployed the Hubble Space Telescope to capture additional data from their source after the fact.

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope helped astronomers study the aftermath of GW170817.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA; acknowledgment: A. Levan (U. Warwick), N. Tanvir (U. Leicester), and A. Fruchter and O. Fox (STScI)

On August 17th, two neutron stars forming a binary system in a galaxy almost 130 million light years away would get so close to one another that tidal forces prompted them to merge into one. It was the first time astronomers ever captured gravitational waves occurring from something besides two black holes slamming into one another.

Related: Astronomers capture gravitational waves from a binary black hole merging into one

The resulting merger unleashed powerful gravitational waves through space-time that set off several Earth-based detectors, and the unique circumstances surrounding the event even enabled astronomers to study the aftermath in visible light.

While various telescopes situated right here on Earth's surface aided astronomers in studying what was left, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope resides in space where we can achieve a considerably less obstructed view. Much of the data is still raw and requires further analysis, but it’s a start.

According to NASA, Hubble obtained vibrant images of the glowing aftermath, including feature-rich spectral data that can tell us more about the dense elements manufactured during the enormous kilonova explosion.

“We think neutron star collisions are a source of all kinds of heavy elements, from the gold in our jewelry to the plutonium that powers spacecraft, power plants, and bombs,” explained Andy Fruchter of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

“Beyond the fact that two neutron stars flung a lot of matter out into space, we’re not yet sure what else the spectrum is telling us. Because the material is moving so fast, the spectral lines are smeared out. Also, there are all kinds of unusual isotopes, many of which are short-lived and undergo radioactive decay. The good news is that it’s an exquisite spectrum, so we have a lot of data to work with and analyze.”

The images Hubble snapped also illustrate a dwindling light source from where astronomers believe the cataclysmic event took place. NASA refers to it as a “powerful wind of material speeding outward,” highlighting how there was a bunch of energy at the beginning, but how it calmed down and dissipated after time.

Experts can also discern from the images that we observed the region from above its orbital plane; this would explain why we saw more than just infrared light emitting from the source.

Because the Sun is now starting to obscure our view of the gravitational wave source, Hubble will take a small break from peeking the aftermath of GW170817. Observations will likely continue sometime in November after the Sun no longer obscures our view.

Special events fuel interest behind using the James Webb Space Telescope to observe the cosmos. Hopefully, it will help astronomers study these powerful forces of nature in more detail and realize a better understanding about them.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 07, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 07, 2018
Why Does the James Webb Space Telescope Keep Getting Delayed?
The James Webb Space Telescope is set to become NASA’s latest and greatest space-based observatory, superseding the Hubble Space Telescope as the big...
SEP 10, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 10, 2018
The James Webb Space Telescope May Help Astronomers Search for Alien Life
Despite an onslaught of delays that have thus far prevented NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope from being launched into space, the space observatory p...
SEP 18, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 18, 2018
Were There Originally Three Magellanic Clouds?
Astronomers recognize the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds as some of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way, but could there have been a third Magellanic...
OCT 15, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 15, 2018
Picking a Landing Site On Mars is No Easy Task
When space agencies like NASA send landers and rovers to other places in the solar system to explore, one of the most challenging questions they’re c...
OCT 28, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 28, 2018
How NASA's Apollo Program Changed Spaceflight Forever
NASA’s Apollo program trekked carefully along the dangerous line separating risk from reward, and as it would seem, the American space agency may hav...
NOV 13, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 13, 2018
Was Pluto Once Home to Ancient Glaciers?
When NASA’s New Horizons probe conducted its historic fly-by of Pluto in 2015, the American space agency received some of the sharpest photographs de...
Loading Comments...